With every new luxury car comes an influx of new features: improved climate control, new driving technologies, additional music and app integrations, and features focused on comfort.
Existing features often make a comeback, while depreciated features like tape decks, ash trays and cigarette lighters make a slow exit.
The challenge that interior car designers face is to keep the driver from feeling overloaded, and to somehow fit more features into the same amount of space.
The obvious answer isn't to add more dials and buttons. No one enjoys a dashboard that looks like a command outpost in a cold war missile station, complete with flashing lights, levers and big red buttons that say "Do not touch."
If product designers are to maintain a sense of balance between accessibility and simplistic design, consolidation becomes a necessity. As car technology continues to evolve -- from a design perspective -- less can bring so much more.
Design isn't just what appeals to the naked eye, the quality of an interior finish is just as important. The driver of a luxury vehicle, who generally has access to more features than they use, should feel like the car is an extension of themselves.
A uniform console design that emphasizes minimalism and beauty can only be truly captured when the proper materials are sourced.
Remember -- like good quality mattresses that you spend a third of your daily life in -- the interior of your car is where you will also spend the majority of your time (rush hour commuters more than others). It should look good from the inside out.
To experience what it's like to drive a car packed with features, I had the opportunity to drive Volvo's top-of-the-line SUV, the 2016 Volvo XC90 T6, with the Inscription interior trim package. The XC90, which launched in Canada in May 2015, was recently named the Motor Trend SUV of the Year, as well as the North American Truck/Utility of the Year.
What makes the XC90 unique is how this premium vehicle manages to incorporate eight buttons on the centre console. Where most vehicles have more than 30 buttons littered across the console, the XC90 cuts the visual clutter with the use of a large portrait-style touch screen that sits front and centre.
The screen is highly responsive and uses a resistive screen, which allows glove wearers to operate it (unlike capacitive touch screens that the phone in your pocket uses).
Nearly everything in the car can be accessed from the three-page screen. This offers full screen map navigation, a powerful multi-source audio system, smartphone integration for calls and messages, and a notification pull-down similar to iOS and Android devices.
My first instinct was that this massive iPad look-alike would be the ultimate distraction. That wasn't the case, by any means.
The console system includes a settings platform for full control over the car and, to help minimize distraction, provides dark/light themes and an auto dimming feature. I left the light theme on for a week, which did not interfere with my driving even at night.
Having the car's features completely accessible through a touch-screen interface also allowed for total cabin control: from tapping an icon to drop down the back row headrests for blind-spot visibility, to interior LED mood lighting. Nearly all secondary features are consolidated into the touch screen interface; your sense of control is further extended.
The interior also includes wood inlays in the dashboard, which carries a story of responsibility and care.
"All our materials are true and honest," says Ebba Maria Thunberg, VP of colour and material design at Volvo. "Our supplier is following a timber legislation called EUTR. It was approved by EU commission to eliminate the risk of timber and wood-based products, based upon illegal deforestation to enter the European market."
There are two types of wood finishes in the XC90. First is the real Linear Walnut, which has an open pore finish and is diagonally positioned for "V" branding. Next is the real Flame birch, which is sourced north of Sweden, Finland and Russia for a darker tint and high-gloss finish.
To keep the console visually neat, the wood panels are also used to shield the compartment contents and the clutter that usually develops inside them.
Between the Inscription trim, the simplified interface and the integrated touch screen, drivers can take full control of their car without sacrificing design. Forward thinking car manufacturers have an addiction for future-ready products: cars will never revert to less features, just as how Apple will never sell a "dumb phone."
To ensure we don't get lost in a vinyl sea of dials and knobs, on your next luxury car test drive, take a moment and observe how the console is laid out. Does it appear symmetrical? Do the buttons or the dashboard look or feel cheap? Are there buttons you could never see yourself pressing?
Eventually, the console will become more than just a control station for climate and music -- self-driving technology, 360-degree cameras, 3D navigation and smartphone app integrations are becoming the norm. The future of interior design needs to be ready for it.
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